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When this author spoke to her daughter about periods, the disapproval from some was immediate. Sounds familiar?
“So you’ve spoken to your daughter about periods?”
“Umm. Yes. In an age appropriate manner. She is 5 but she now understands it’s part of being an adult.”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing. The last time I checked. Why?”
“Don’t you know that you are damaging her emotionally? She will be scarred for life.”
This intellectual discussion had me praying for it to end quickly. It transpired between me and a friend who is a modern, young professional. She was horrified at the conversation I had had with my daughter about the ‘unmentionables’ considering she had shooed her daughter away when assaulted by similar queries. Sounds familiar? I bet it does.
It has always fascinated me how Indians have a penchant for avoiding uncomfortable conversations. A lot of my childhood TV and movie watching, even during my teenage years, was eclipsed by large embroidered cushions that descended on my face as soon as any ‘objectionable’ content was on screen.
The status of a trip we once took to the famous temple of Khajuraho remains a blur in my mind since, short of a blindfold, my eyes were covered during the entire tour or anywhere we visited in the city as there were reminders of these tourist friendly scantily clad murtis everywhere. If it is possible to visit a place and not visit it at the same time, then I have that dubious distinction.
I remember visiting a tribal home once as my father had the jurisdiction of Madhya Pradesh, as a senior government officer, and ended up touring a lot of villages and tribal districts because of it. My grandmother was with us on one such trip and when I met a tribal lady who was wearing a sheer sari tied behind her neck, her usual traditional attire, my curiosity was doused with a shawl on my face and a loud ‘ hey ram’, followed by a big dressing down given to my father for bringing me to ‘such an wrong environment.’
The same enigma follows this cryptic concept called understanding the human body and sex education in school. An oft avoided session that helps remind and acknowledge that every child was not conceived through immaculate conception, an avoidable topic. The ones who avoid it the most seem to be the embarrassed school authorities and sensing their fear and reluctance, kids have a great time without taking away much.
My maid told me that in her daughter’s school, while on the subject, they played some AV, stopped it midway when children started laughing and then punished them as ‘murgas’ (note: a form of punishment where children are made to squat in a ‘chicken pose’.) If some parents were allowed, they would have their children believe that periods come straight out of some leaky faucet and not through a carefully planned act of nature.
Even in this day and age, there are still communities (I have friends from affluent business families who have told me this) where you are treated like a carrier of bubonic plague if your period is going on. Stay away, eat separately and don’t touch any god. Wow! Things must have been better in the dark ages.
Let’s face it, neither is strong conditioning about to change overnight, nor are societal attitudes towards secrecy on these matters. I completely understand the need for age appropriate exposure, but the reality of kids today is that they are extremely intelligent, intuitive and aware about so much that’s going on around them, that to stick wads of cotton in their ears and shutting their eyes will amount to nothing but irritation and engender an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion which doesn’t bode well.
The human body and its functions, the differences between each gender, sex education, are all essential pieces of the jigsaw puzzle called life. This is one aspect of parenting that will not benefit from the mysticism that India is famous for!
I think a month or two ago, World Period Day was celebrated with great gusto. Though I appreciated what it did towards encouraging dialogue on the taboo subject, talking about it on one day is not enough. While men and women might be appeased being deified and glorified on only one day of the entire year, the same doesn’t hold true for a phenomenon that surfaces with great gusto every single month, bringing with it a flood of beliefs, dated practices and questions, especially from the opposite sex.
So let’s start small but strong. Within our immediate sphere of influence. Your children, friends who care to listen, people who work with you and for you. There are a lot of informative videos available online on all these topics, communities and counsellors one can reach out to who help inform and prepare. Be innovative and speak up. Putting off ‘what’s uncomfortable’ for later, won’t make it disappear like an apparition and will surely return to haunt you. But start the dialogue at home first, and for god’s sake, throw away the cushions!
A version of this was first published here.
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